Like Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott says in her 2005 song, We Run This, “It don’t matter where you from, it’s where you at.”

Thanks to streaming platforms like YouTube and Spotify, this is especially the case for hip-hop artists who these days can be geographically anywhere, and still reach millions.

Consider Calgarian James Colt. At 21, he is making music full-time,  creating videos and singles to increase his online presence and collects revenue from his 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.  Although he lives in Canada most of those listeners are in the U.S. with the majority tuning in from Dallas, Texas.

On a sunny day in March 2019 Calgary hip-hop artist James Colt is on his way to his studio where he is working on a new album. Photo: Ricardo GarciaJames Colt (right) and designer Bret Curtis (centre) taking a break after a performance at Cafe Koi on March 30, 2019. Photo: Ricardo Garcia

“The internet is very important for my career. It has allowed me to connect with many of the producers and artists who have helped me get to where I am today,” says Colt.

Colt continues to increase his online footprint and recently released a video on worldstarhiphop.com which is a major platform for hip-hop artists.

“There are listeners that support me and have discovered me all over the world through streams. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with these fans and they probably wouldn’t even be fans in the first place.”

Colt says while he really likes the response he gets from his fans online, he prefers his interactions where they can see him live.

“I’ll get a lot of people hitting me up on Instagram or Twitter asking me stuff. I usually respond on Twitter a lot and sometimes to Youtube comments, but the best is in person at shows and stuff like that. That’s definitely the coolest.”

Twenty years ago in Calgary, artists were handing out mixtapes on cassette and trying to find venues to play at. Now, Walkmans  are rarities and CDs have lost their place in this age of single digital downloads.

For musicians like Calgary-based Transit who still has physical copies of his music available at shows, the internet has given him an outlet not only for his music but also for his Couch Money clothing merchandise.

Transit is half of the hip-hop duo Transit 22, the other half being DJ Jonny Williams. Collaborating for more than 10 years, their music can be found on all platforms.

“I’m doing some shows in Canada and I want to get back to the States because that’s where most of my fans seem to be right now.”

“You look at artists like James Colt and he is super-poppin’ but not necessarily in Calgary. It’s weird you could have a song on Spotify that has more than a million plays but it’s because the scene is just not there yet. We’re a little behind but it’s home and I love everyone here.”

Calgary CKUA Radio host Matt Masters stays on top of the local hip-hop scene by scanning online for new local musicians.

Masters has also been been playing music for the last 20 years. His music has an alternative country sound although his first band was a hip-hop group that didn’t enjoy much success in the local scene.  Still, he appreciates the growth of the genre.

“I would go to hip-hop shows but there wasn’t a venue. The places to play hip-hop were the Republic and the Night Gallery that had metal the next night and garage rock the next night. There just wasn’t a big enough scene to have that culture.”

James Colt (right) and designer Bret Curtis (centre) taking a break after a performance at Cafe Koi on March 30, 2019. Photo: Ricardo Garcia

However, Masters also noticed things have changed over the past couple decades with more artists getting recognized.

“You look at the success of 10X and One Big Jam and Groove Theory — they get a good crowd.

Masters adds, “I come across local artists who are clearly working hip-hop, young people in their twenties who got a record or two and it’s good. The interesting thing is that you don’t have to have a major local following to have a career.”